How can I extract scents from things?
January 16, 2009 8:13 AM   Subscribe

How do I extract scents?

It seems like there are a few ways to extract scents from things, but I can't seem to find the Klutz Guide to Scent Distillation - decent instruction and a guide to what types of materials need what method of extraction. Web pages, books, whatever - I just want to be able to make a tiny bottle of mulch, or used book, or miso soup! Graduated cylinder and pipette use is a plus, I need more laboratories in my life.
posted by soma lkzx to Science & Nature (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Instructables to the rescue!
posted by rmless at 8:24 AM on January 16, 2009

I know it's not quite what you asked for, but if those are really the scents you want and it's about having the scent not making the scent, check out You'll see on their list of accords that they sell "English Novel", dirt (which isn't quite the same as mulch, but close), and while no miso soup, they do have cucumber rolls and california rolls.

I've been to the studio and smelled many of these and I have some of his perfumes. They really do smell like exactly what they say, even when they're things that you wouldn't think of as having a smell.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:25 AM on January 16, 2009

If only I had a penguin...: I've actually been putting off a trip to CB I Hate Perfume until I can burst in, throw up my hands, and loudly proclaim it all to be child's play.
posted by soma lkzx at 9:16 AM on January 16, 2009

"Extracting" a scent is the kind of thing you'd theoretically be able to do with a fully-outfitted chemistry lab if you knew exactly what you were looking for. The examples you link to both deal with substances that have essential oils, which makes this process vastly easier. For other things, like mulch, books, miso soup, etc., getting a batch of stuff that smells a certain way is difficult, but not nearly as difficult as ensuring that that stuff won't spoil, is sufficiently potent, and in a form which is easily dispersed. The hardest part can be figuring out exactly which aroma compounds or combination thereof produces particular aromas, and even if you are able to get what you want, the result may be toxic. With plants bearing essential oils you don't have to worry about this. For everything else, it's a problem. Taste and odor chemistry is the subject of really heavy duty organic chemistry research.

I'm tempted to recommend leaving this one to the experts.
posted by valkyryn at 10:40 AM on January 16, 2009

You may want to learn about the history of this interesting science. Perfume is a great story.
posted by Area Control at 11:48 AM on January 16, 2009

Ooh, guys CB I Hate Perfume perfumes always give me a terrible headache - like migraine headache. I've actually found them to be a million times worse than Demeter scents & overly simple and I like the weird stuff! That leads me to think that a lot of the composition is poor-quality synthetic in nature. But I might be in the minority on this one.

A lot of the scents you want to distill, when they are sold commercially (e.g. check out Comme de Garcon's line of xerox-smelling, ozonic odd stuff) are synthetically composed because there's no other way around it.

Valkyryn's right - the science is in using aromatic compounds to synthesize mostly inorganic smells.

There's a part in Suskind's Perfume where Grenouille tries to distill the scent of metal and pipes via techniques used for flowers/herbs and fails.

But if you are looking for a perfume that bears a certain scent or has a certain note (leather, hay, xerox toner), there are plenty of odd (and beautiful) ones out there. Luckyscent is my standby and they do little vial samples for a reasonable price.
posted by HolyWood at 12:37 PM on January 16, 2009

2nding Perfume by patrick Suskind - fabulous book - and also has some detail about the extraction of scents including maceration and enfleurage. Maybe somewhat off the track but I loved that book.
posted by xla76 at 12:49 PM on January 16, 2009

I'm mostly out of luck unless it's plants with essential oils? Well, at least I got a book rec out of it.
posted by soma lkzx at 1:29 PM on January 16, 2009

Update!: This book is great. It answers all of my questions about perfume, and questions about anthrax I didn't even know i had.
posted by soma lkzx at 10:54 AM on January 22, 2009

Not to mention how to blend into a crowd :) Glad to help!
posted by Area Control at 11:35 AM on January 31, 2009

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